Pubdate: Wed, 09 Aug 2000
Source: Ventura County Star (CA)
Copyright: 2000, Ventura County Star
Author: Timm Herdt, State Bureau Chief


WAR ON DRUGS: With nothing to lose, Campbell decides to campaign on an

The most provocative speech delivered by a Republican in Philadelphia
last week came not in the scripted, antiseptic rhetorical environment
at the Union Center.

Rather, the speech was delivered to the alternative Shadow Convention,
an issue-based conference organized by free-thinking commentator
Arianna Huffington.

The speaker was Rep. Tom Campbell, the Republican U.S. Senate nominee
from California. The subject was the nation's drug policy. The
thinking was fresh.

 From the excerpts shown on television, the delivery of Campbell's
speech was not polished. But the words themselves, coming from a major
party candidate in a political era that celebrates bland centricism,
were strikingly unconventional.

Campbell began by reciting the record of the nation's 20-year war on
drugs: a five-fold increase in the number of deaths by overdose, a
doubling in the number of high school seniors who say drugs are
readily available to them, a ten-fold increase in incarcerations for
drug arrests.

"I cannot stand before any audience and credibly say what we all want
to hear -- that we're winning the war on drugs," Campbell said.

"Instead of retreating to the comfortable political ground and calling
for more interdiction and incarceration, I challenge our leaders to
address the question of treatment."

Again, he recited some numbers -- these from the Rand Corp.'s Drug
Policy Research Center: Each additional dollar spent on treatment is
eight times more effective in reducing cocaine use than a dollar spent
on new mandatory jail time; treatment is 15 times more effective in
reducing crime than mandatory sentences; 23 times more effective in
reducing drug usage than eradicating crops.

The focus of the Nixon administration's anti-drug efforts was
treatment. Two-thirds of the federal money went for treatment, and
progress was demonstrated between 1971 and 1973.

Today, only a fifth of federal anti-drug money is directed to

Yet Congress has just approved another $1.3 billion for the drug war
- -- not to treat addicts in the United States, but to arm warriors to
fight drug lords in Colombia.

"This sounds familiar, doesn't it?" Campbell asked. "We're entering a
jungle in a third-world country, to fight a civil war with roots at
least 30 years deep...

"We're sending U.S. military advisers... All that's missing is the
signature of Robert McNamara."

The same money spent on treatment, he said, could save 1.3 million
lives in America and deprive the drug lords of 1.3 million ravenous

"I will pay a price for challenging the status quo," Campbell
predicted. "I will be called reckless, radical, coddling of

"The war on drugs has failed, and I cannot remain silent as this
failure continues to wreak a terrible toll on this nation."

Campbell has in fact already been called reckless by Democratic
supporters of incumbent Sen. Dianne Feinstein.

But as it happens, the Senate campaign will coincide with that over a
ballot proposition that may direct public attention to the failures of
the war on drugs.

Proposition 36 would require that nonviolent drug offenders -- those
charged with possession or being under the influence of illegal drugs,
but not selling them -- be sentenced to treatment rather than jail.

Campbell has signed on as a supporter.

Proponents, while happy to have an elected Republican among their list
of endorsers to balance the handful of liberal Democratic lawmakers
already signed on, aren't so sure that Campbell's support will help.
He is, after all, lagging badly in the polls.

But it should be noted that the opposition -- led by district
attorneys and funded by the prison guards' union -- is not defending
the war on drugs. Rather, the strategy so far has been to argue that
drug courts, in which the judge has a choice between a sentence of
jail time or treatment, yield more effective treatment.

With Campbell on the stump with nothing to lose and both sides of the
Proposition 36 campaign well funded, there is a chance that this
election season will produce one issue of substance this fall.

Imagine that. A political campaign about an idea, about challenging
orthodoxy, about a fundamental change in policy to more effectively
fight a problem that ruins the lives of millions of Americans and
their families.

That may be the most radical idea of all.
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MAP posted-by: greg